As the final moments of his high school basketball career wound down, Kickapoo senior Jack Simpson took time for a second thought.
“We were about to lose to Nixa, you know, we were down 12 with 30 seconds left. I looked around and tried to take it in for a minute because I got the privilege to play all four years here at Kickapoo, and it went by really fast,” Simpson said.
Nixa defeated Kickapoo 59-47 in the Class 5 sectional playoffs in March to end a 24-5 season and the careers of seven senior Chiefs. The end of the season gave Simpson a moment to think about his future.
The man who played more varsity basketball games (113) for Kickapoo High School than any other basketball player in the program’s 44 years of existence was committed to Missouri Southern State University. With some reconsideration, Simpson announced a decommitment from the Joplin college and committed to Millikin University, an NCAA Division III program in Decatur, Illinois.
“It just seemed like a good fit. Whenever I went there, I was happy. I knew I could go there and have an opportunity to play right away,” Simpson said.
Millikin began recruiting Simpson in the summer after a coach from the Big Blue saw him play an AAU game. The courtship continued with Millikin representatives attending at least five Kickapoo games.
“I’ve been told I can come in and be a guy that can get on the court right away. That was big, honestly, in my decision making. I’m going to come in and really try to be a leader with my play on and off the court,” Simpson said.
Simpson says his decision to change commitments in no way reflects negatively on Missouri Southern coach Jeff Boschee or assistant coach Sam McMahon, who recruited Simpson to stay in state.
“Coach Boschee and Coach McMahon and all of them down there are great guys. Even whenever I called them and told them, they were really understanding,” Simpson said.
Simpson says he plans to earn a teaching degree. He aspires to be a college basketball coach. He credits Kickapoo coach Dick Rippee and Robert Yanders, AAU coach of the Yanders Law program, for serving as the mentors who inspire him to want to coach.
“I could see him being very tenacious, very focused and intense. The same traits that made him very successful as a player, I think, would serve him well as a coach,” Rippee said.
Simpson says he learned a great deal from Rippee, especially during a senior season in which Kickapoo regularly platooned 10 players to maximize the talent on its roster.
“This year was really tough on Rippee because we had nine, 10 guys that could play a lot of places and probably could have started just about anywhere. He was telling me how he handles situations like that,” Simpson said.
Rippee faced life without the class of 2015 for the first time Tuesday morning at 6:30 a.m., when he unlocked the gym for an open shoot-around.
“I texted all seven of our seniors during the school day and I said, ‘It was really weird having a workout here and not having you guys a part of it,’” Rippee said. “They were reliable and they were very dedicated to our program, so when you lose guys like that it hurts not being around them, you’re going to miss them.”
Rippee asked the Chiefs to put the team above the individual all season, and says Simpson led the way in buying in on the request.
“The thing about Jack is he’s got as good a heart as anybody I’ve ever been around. He’s a good-hearted person, he cares about others, he’s selfless and it’s evident by how he plays and some of the things he sacrifices for his teammates,” Rippee said.